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North Mymms Schools & their Children
1700 - 1964

by Peter Kingsford

Chapter 3
With every mouth, God sends a pair of hands 1870-1890

The chief influence on the schools in this period was what the vicar called a beneficent Act of Parliament. He wrote: -

"It is intended to enforce on parents the duty of conferring on their children, that which they ought to be only too thankful to gain for them, the advantage of a good education; and it must be a thoughtless and cruel parent who, through negligence, fails to secure this boon for their child."

The Elementary Education Act of 1870 was the product of twenty years’ discussion and controversy. It provided for school boards to be set up in those districts which were short of schools of the required standard, with the duty of "filling the gaps" which had been left by voluntary schools. The gaps were large; one and a half million children had not been reached. The boards would establish the necessary schools, to be financed by the rates.

The author of the Act, W E Forster, Gladston’s Vice President of the Council, brother in law of Matthew Arnold, Quaker and Radical, had one great difficulty. This was to settle the issue of religious education, strongly contested between the established church and the nonconformists. His solution was a clause in the Bill that there was to be no denominational teaching in any school supported from the rates. It was therefore the aim of Church of England vicars like the Rev Latter to prevent North Mymms having a "Rate Supported School" controlled by a school board.

The voluntary schools, such as those in North Mymms, were to receive a 50% grant but they had to put their house in order before the needs of each district were assessed. The arrival of the new desks at Water End has been mentioned in chapter 2. Thereafter the vicar, the Rev Latter repeatedly reminded his people of the new situation. He pointed out that the parents of children between five and thirteen who were not at school were liable to be summoned and fined and that this control was already in force under the London byelaws.

Attendance and Child Labour

Insisting that attendance must be more regular, he introduced two sanctions. The annual school treat, a great event, would be available only to children actually attending the day and Sunday schools. More rigorous was the fine of one halfpenny levied for, absence from either morning or afternoon school without leave. Encouragement, as well as deterrence, was given. At Water End there was a present of: - "Good Print sufficient to make a frock and a cape for each girl who had made more than 200 attendances." Forty-seven girls were eligible, including two who had never been absent, Emily Angell (appropriately named) and Alice Longstaff. The expectation was not very high, for 200 was far below the possible attendance.

Pre-occupied with the threat which irregularity of attendance posed to the voluntary status and the income of his schools, the vicar was determined to prevent their being taken over by a school board which, he told the parishioners, would increase both the rates and the cost of schooling. Everyone must act, he wrote, "to make it unnecessary for the Government to interfere with us." But he also saw the parents’ and the farmers’ points of view and at the end of 1871 expressed it quite simply: -

"There are, of course, difficulties in the way of unbroken attendance at School in Agricultural Districts, where wages are low, and children are soon able to earn a little, and where a certain kind of labour will only admit of a small sum being paid for it, such as bird-scaring, plough-driving, etc. On the one hand, the Farmer must not have the supply for his labour market lessened; and on the other, the Poor Man cannot afford to lose the little help that his boys of ten or eleven years are, at certain times of the year; able to gain for him."

Resolved to tackle the problem, the vicar consulted the farmers and produced a plan acceptable to them: -

  • No boy between the age of six and twelve years will be employed by any Farmer, excepting in hay time and harvest, unless he be sent to him by the School Master.
  • Parents who wish their boys to go out bird scaring, etc, to give notice to the School Master, who will keep a list of boys willing to be employed.
  • No boy will be sent out for more than two days in any one week, and the remainder of the week he must be at School or his name will be passed over the next time boys are required.
  • The Farmers, when in want of boys, will send a notice to the School Master, who will then arrange which boys are to go.
  • Boys between the ages of 6 and 12 not attending School will not be employed by any of the Farmers.
  • If parents can keep their children regularly at School, their children would make much greater progress than when they are taken away temporarily for field labour; but when the circumstances of the family make it a necessity for the children occasionally to help the earnings, it is believed the present plan will enable them to do so with the least injury to their future prospects.
  • No boy will be sent out for labour from the Schools without the parents have signified their consent to the School Master.
The vicar may have had foreknowledge of what was to come. Two years later he announced the official regulations, which were more stringent than those which he had agreed with the farmers. No children under eight were to be employed. Those of eight and nine years could be employed provided they attended school for 125 days a year; those of ten and eleven for only 75 days. Twelve years was the age for starting work without restriction. The corn and hay harvests were excepted from the regulations. In North Mymms there was, in fact, in 1871 only one working boy under twelve, Walter Briston of Bell Bar, son of a herdsman, widower with five children and a grandson to support.

Fines for Absence

The fines for absence were duly levied, at least in the boys’ school, the offenders: - J Peck, E Groom, C Pollard, J Morris, F Burn, F Hill and A and J Kingham. In the last case their mother refused, or was unable, to pay. Per contra, rewards were given for regularity and good conduct and also to encourage parents to keep their children at school until thirteen years old. On Christmas morning 1871 Alice Dolley and Edward Blandford received one sovereign each, Emily Long and Henry Burgess half a sovereign each, and Hannah Burr and John Longstaff five shillings each. These were tempting rewards compared with the weekly wage of an agricultural labourer of about twelve shillings.

At the girls’ school perhaps the "Good Print" helped to do the trick. Attendance improved but it created its own problem, one of overcrowding. The Education Board told the school managers that the accommodation had to be increased. The vicar appealed for funds, £72 was raised from landowners and farmers, the cost was covered, and Her Majesty’s Inspector was "thoroughly satisfied." At both schools there had been accommodation for 155 pupils at ten square feet each. On the day of an official return the attendance was 82 boys and 46 girls. 2

Although irregular attendance was to remain a problem, North Mymms was in the clear officially concerning accommodation, at least in amount. The census of education published in 1872 reported that 198 school places were needed and that there were sufficient places for all children who needed them. This survey included Little Heath and Westfield School, outside the parish.

Education was not yet either compulsory or free. That was to come only gradually. Although Robert Lowe had admitted, "It will be absolutely necessary to compel our future masters to learn their letters", English government still clung to its subjects’ freedom to be unlettered. Only the school boards had been empowered to frame bylaws for compulsory attendance. But North Mymms had no school board and meanwhile the Rev Latter struggled for parental support. Relief came from Lord Sandon’s Act of 1876 under which the poor law guardians were to set up attendance committees where there was no school board. This Act now stated that it was the duty of the parent to see that his child was educated. It forbade employment under ten years. Children between ten and fourteen had to have had five years’ schooling and to have passed Standard IV before working.

The Rev Latter welcomed this warmly. He distributed a summary to all parents, hoping "that we may never see the day when a Parishioner of North Mymms is summoned before a Magistrate for neglecting so obvious a duty." Further, there was a financial inducement; under certain stringent conditions the Government would pay the school fees for three years.

The Hatfield Board of Guardians duly set up its school attendance committee and appointed as attendance officer H Dunham (also clerk to the guardians) whose duty it was to summon recalcitrant parents to be fined five shillings with costs. The vicar reminded everyone that "it will be to the Parents’ advantage to keep their children closely to school, if they wish to send them out to work soon." In fact the attendance required did not amount to much - 250 times a year. As each half day counted as one attendance, that meant 125 days in the year. The legal school leaving age was still ten years.

By and large, the situation had become more favourable in the 1870s. The boys’ school seems to have taken advantage of it. The number presented for examination in the three Rs rose from forty five to sixty six, with a corresponding increase in the passes. The master, George Foster, was aided by his pupil teacher, Henry Burgess son of the woodcutter and beadle who lived in Churchyard Cottages, who had been promoted from monitor, and by a monitor to take his place. Before school assembly each day Foster had to teach the pupil teacher who was faced with his own topics of study - Macaulay’s speech on, appropriately, education and the state, and his essay on Hampden.

The master extended the curriculum, so far as the revised code would permit. History, geography and grammar became examinable and grant earning. Thus in 1875 nine boys passed in history, ten in geography. The boys learned a good deal of poetry, Scott’s Lady of the Lake, Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village (a contrast with North Mymms). George Foster also taught music-and singing, the pupil teacher - nature study.

All this was much approved of by HMI Rev C J Robinson. The vicar explained to his flock the importance of the Government’s annual inspection -

"The Government Inspection is intended to apply the most rigid test to the efficiency of the School Teaching, and to ascertain how far the children in the School are being properly taught. Of course it cannot determine this with certainty; for the great hindrance to children at our National Schools being properly eduacated is - with many of them - the irregularity of their attendance; and with others. the early age at which they are removed from school."

In the middle classes, the value of a good education is better known, and parents make every sacrifice to send their children, (often at great cost to themselves), to School; and keep them at School to a much greater age.

There is little doubt, but that among the more respectable of those parents whose children are getting their education at our National Schools and it is certainly so at North Mymms, the value of a good education is beginning to be better understood; and a real effort is made, often at much personal inconvenience, and even present pecuniary loss, to ensure the regularity of their children's attendance at School, and to keep them at School until they are thirteen or fourteen

However, the Government Inspection is intended to show what the real state of each School is; and how far the instruction in it - notwithstanding the draw backs with which the Master or Mistress have to contend - has been successful

The Inspector is assisted by an Assistant-Inspector, who has been a National School master, and so, is thoroughly acquainted with the practical working of a School. The Assistant-Inspector pays his visit first; and examines; individually, each child in the School who has attended the requisite number of times, in reading, writing, and arithmetic; a piece of dictation is given to all children over a certain standard; and an examination has then to be passed in either some period of English history, or the Geography of some part of England or Europe, as the case may be. When this ordeal has been passed, the discipline and order of the School are examined into by the Inspector himself; and then the state of the School premises, their ventilation, warming, repairs, the efficiency of the School materials, such as desks, forms, books, etc, etc, are all passed in review

The inspector commented that the instruction was creditable, the work done on paper was up to standard, and the first year grammar was good, but he thought that the bearing of the boys would be improved by drill, and the "offices" (i.e. the lavatories) needed repair. The last item indicated an unwelcome addition to expenditure by the managers.

Things were better next year, 1876 - 77. "The report", wrote the vicar, "is a very favourable one for both the Boys’ and the Girls’ Schools." But the boys had done the better, and the vicar was proud to announce that two of them, Frederick Nunn and Alfred Pollard, had gained Honour Certificates, signed by Lord Sandon himself. These could entitle them to free education for three years. All the Work was well done, commented the HMI, except the Third Standard, and the geography and grammar were very satisfactory.

Some light on what that could mean is thrown by the kind of schoolwork which Mary Town was doing in Standard VI two years later. She was the eleven year old daughter of one of the railway signalmen who lived at Marshmoor with his wife, six children and mother in law. A little group of railwaymen were there, Henry Town, his fellow signalman and the railway gatekeeper.

Mary Town worked at her copy books to practise her handwriting. On each page of the copy book were two lines of copperplate handwriting. She had to copy each line five times. The subject of the copperplate lines varied. In copy book 8, it was "Geographical head lines: Colonies." India had the following lines: The valley of the Ganges is naturally fertile. Rice, Cotton and indigo are exported from India. The soil of India yields large quantities of nitre. Allahabad is an important military depot. Lucknow is celebrated for its siege of 1857. Bombay possesses the finest harbour in India. Calcutta, the capital, is built on the Hooghley. Tigers and crocodiles live in the Sunderbunds. A British factory was established at Surat (1612).

Similar gems of information in copperplate described the other colonies, Australia, Canada, etc. When she had copied each line five times she proceeded to copy books 9 and 10 on "Geographical head lines: Europe" and Copy Books 11 and 12 on "Geographical head lines: General". There she found such lines to copy as:The Baltic is a shallow inland sea with brackish water. Germany consists of a confederation of 27 states. The climate of Greece is mild and delightful. Moscow was burnt by the Russians in 1812. The teacher’s blue pencil varied from F to G.

In her Exercise Book Mary wrote compositions, dictations, grammar, Collects for the Day, and long arithmetical exercises to find the Greatest Common Measure of a series. Dictations and compositions were about history, as for example: -

"George the third King of England did not like to appear in public. He loved quietness. One day nearly all the inhabitants of a town assembled together to welcome the king. But instead of going that way he took another route, but as he was going that way he saw every house, every road and every lane deserted. He could see no one only a woman out in a field at work. He at once went over to her, and said, ‘My good woman how is it that you have not gone with your neighbours to see the king." Then the woman said "I have a large family sir and it takes all I can provide for them but I should have very much liked to have gone and seen him. Good King George, may GOD bless hint" Then the king took a note out of his pocket of the Bank of England, and gave it to the poor woman and said, You can tell your neighbours when they come back that you have seen the king, and they have not."

In grammar, she had before her the mysteries of the parts of the sentence, subject, predicate, object, extension. She had to analyse the following lines of verse:

"My loved consort on the dangerous tide
Of life since has anchored by thy side,"

Every single word of the lines received its proper label: - "My": - Pronoun Personal; Common Gender; Singular Number; 1st Person; Possessive Case. "Loved" - Adjective qualifying "consort". "Consort" - Noun Proper; Masculine Gender, Singular Number; 2nd Person, Nominative Case. Etc, etc, down to - "has anchored" - Verb Intransitive; Indicative Mood.

After such pedagogic and childish endeavours it is salutary to recall Matthew Arnold’s view a few years before: "It will with practice no doubt be found possible to get the children through the examination in grammar, geography and history, without their really knowing any one of these three matters:"

Rewards for Attendance

The drawbacks with which the Master or Mistress have to contend to which the vicar referred, remained chiefly those of irregular attendance. The attendance continued to improve if the increase in "school pence" is any indication. But many days were lost because of the close links with the many other church organisations for which the children were released. Of these, there were the choir outings, the flower show, the cottage garden show, cricket matches, the Band of Hope. Quite often epidemics of scarlet fever, whooping cough and "fever" (probably a euphemism for typhoid) closed the schools.

In order to counteract these losses, labourers’ children were given rewards for attendance, through the kindness of a friend of the vicar. The boys - above the 4th standard, Alfred Pollard and Fred Tomlinson five shillings each, those below that standard, Alfred Longstaff, Herbert Towne, Robert Pollard and Emmanuel Chapman half a crown each; the girls above the 4th standard, Georgina Shelton and Eliza Knott five shillings each, those below it, Anne Day, Minnie Eaglestone, Jane Ray and Minnie Hill half a crown each. Emma Dickenson received a book instead of cash; as a farmer’s daughter she was precluded from the money reward.

A strict, but not inhumane, discipline was part of the routine. One example (from the school logbook) may suffice: -

"Edward Groom did his drill in so careless and idle a manner he was given ten lines to do after school He made an impertinent gesture, so was given five more lines, which he refused to do. He had the cane, but still refused to do the lines. Groom therefore had no dinner, and when school re-opened, he and his brother Harry made an uproar. Harry was sent into the back room where he continued to shout and sing, so he was sent out from the school. After school Edward began to do his lines, and after a while the Master relented and remitted the remainder - ‘having shown him that there can only be one Master'"

At the end of the 1870s there was a sad tribute to the boys’ master. George Foster died at the age of thirty-nine, (after sixteen years at the school), leaving his widow with four children. Mrs Letitia Haines, who had recently taken over from Miss Wiseman at the girls’ school, organised a fund for a memorial stone and for the widow. The vicar, now the Rev G S Batty, wrote: "The names of the people who subscribed (by far the largest number being old scholars) shows how readily the opportunity was embraced of testifying to the love and esteem in which our late schoolmaster was held." There were 156 names on a subscription list which totalled £16 2s. 3d. Thirty subscribers gave one penny each, eighty nine gave in pennies, in addition to those - Gaussen of Brookmans, Cotton Curtis of Potterells, and the late vicar, who gave in pounds. Another sum of £8 l0s. 0d. was collected to enable Edith Foster, age six, to have a pension from the Schoolmasters’ Association. George Foster’s work was done; it had been marked by the biggest changes since the school began. He must have been delighted when his pupil teacher, Henry Burgess, completed his apprenticeship and was appointed as assistant master at another National Boys’ school.

His school still depended heavily on the gentry. Out of a total income of £184 in 1877, voluntary subscriptions accounted for nearly £100, three quarters of which came from the gentry and the rest from farmers. The girls’ school, on the other hand, was still governed by, and benefited from, Miss Casamajor’s will.

The 1880s open auspiciously for the children with an Education Bill introduced by A J Mundella, a member of Gladstone’s second government. It was only a matter of time before the village labourers would have the vote. They had to be compelled to "learn theft letters". The Bill enacted, for the first time, compulsory attendance everywhere. There were, as usual, various exemptions for children between ten and thirteen, and school fees continued, in particular at North Mymms. Admission was free only for the children of paupers, of whom there were two or three in the parish, whose fees were paid by the Hatfield Board of Guardians.

While the Act improved the general outlook, the situation in the boys’ school was not so good. Following the death of George Foster two temporary masters followed one another in a single year. Next came Frederick Carter, also the church organist, who stayed for four years, then Edward Knowles for only two, William Lock for another two years, and stability was not reached until Benjamin Mallett took over in 1889 and remained for many years. Not surprisingly, HM Inspector’s report in 1886 was cool. The Rev Batty referred to what he called "the encouraging portions of the report": "the discipline is good and the general result was satisfactory. The work of the lower standards both in the elementary (that is the three Rs) and the class subjects (history, geography and grammar) was distinctly creditable."

The girls’ school was more fortunate. Their mistress, Mrs Haines, stayed for twenty two years and her assistant Miss Ellen Turner for ten. An innovation came in 1883. The vicar explained: -

The importance of the elder children attending our National Schools gaining some knowledge of Cookery has received marked attention by the Education Department, and those who realise how much the attractions of a home depend on the way the daily food is prepared, will rejoice to hear that arrangements have been made to instruct the older scholars of our Girls’ School in this practical and necessary art. One of the rooms at the School Cottage, at Waterend, has been fitted with a range especially recommended by the National Training School of Cookery, at South Kensington, and supplied with the requisite materials. Classes will be held twice a week under the superintendence of our Assistant Mistress, Miss Turner, who has acquired a practical knowledge of the subject. It is hoped to arrange that the members of the Girls’ Friendly Society, resident in the parish, should also be admitted to the Classes. The food thus prepared may be purchased by the Scholars, at a moderate cost, either for taking home to their parents or for their own refreshment during the dinner hour, and will consist of soup, meat, vegetables, various kinds of puddings, tarts, cakes, etc. The friends of this movement are invited to assist the effort, by giving orders for beef tea, light puddings, or other nourishment suitable for invalids, or for any of the ordinary kinds of prepared food. Presents of vegetables etc., will also be gladly received at the School House, Waterend.

The lessons went well for the inspector said that cookery and sewing were well taught. "Needlework", wrote the vicar, "is of equal if not more importance than cookery in the training of the rising generation." It was providential that the lady of North Mymms Place had given calico, flannel and wool for the girls’ industrious lingers. Mrs Haines originated prizes for needlework. They were work boxes given by the gentry, Mrs Winch at North Mymms Place, Mrs Cotton Curtis, the banker’s wife, and Mrs Batty and the Misses Batty at the vicarage. In the vicar’s words, "they caused much delight to the prize-takers, and will no doubt form an encouragement to them to be practically handy with their needles in their several homes". The winning girls were Cecilia Arnold, Kate Banks, Martha Clarke, Alice Juby, Matilda Knott, Elizabeth Marsden, Catherine Parsons, and Frances Parsons. Both subjects were excellent training for domestic service.

Also at Water End the infants performed even better. They obtained the highest possible merit grant of "excellent" in 1886, and received the same mark in the following year. "The object lessons are very good" reported the inspector. They were studies of all kinds of familiar and unfamiliar things such as - paper, sponge, cork and the squirrel, the goat, fish and even the giraffe and the crocodile. Ellen Turner must have been an excellent teacher. She was also a leading light in the Band of Hope and for her "warm and practical interest", was presented with a "handsome haberdashery box" subscribed for by sixty persons.

The boys’ school seems to have had problems in the 1880s, probably because of the frequent change of master. No new subjects crept into the curriculum, firmly set as it was in the revised code. Discipline varied. The inspector’s report of "good" on the day of visits meant little. Punishable offences were numerous: rude replies, bad language, ill treatment of the girls, indecent graffitti in the closets, stealing, lying, breakages. The punishment was meant to suit the crime whether it was the cane, making an example before the whole school, lectures on sinfulness, loss of play time, or detention. Truancy, escape from the three Rs, was not uncommon. Twenty boys went into the fields close to the school to catch efts and were made to stay in; the fair at Barnet and a circus at Hatfield were irresistible attractions. Horatio Keep, Frederick Archer, John Keep and George Morris played truant in 1880 and were punished accordingly.

Good conduct was rewarded and recorded by the master. "Fred Mayes found and brought to me a shilling which I had lost although I had not announced the loss, nor did anyone else know he had found it." The Rev Batty gave four five shilling prizes for conduct in 1883 to J Robinson, Jonah Church, Ernest Towne and William Hipgrave. The next year Towne and Hipgrave were again the good boys, together with R Cannon and Emmanuel Chapman.

School days were still lost in spite of tighter control. The attendance officer came from Hatfield to pursue offending parents. In October 1883 Thomas Pollard, agricultural labourer supporting five young children, was fined two shillings and sixpence for the absence from school of his son age twelve. Some farmers also broke the law. Information was lodged against Thomas Parsons, farmer of sixty two acres at Puttocks, Welham Green, for employing the boy Townsend. The gentry’s sports also still took theft toll, though by agreement as noted in the school log book: -

"On November 5th 1886 the Rev G S Batty and W R Winch visited the school. I asked him (the latter) to give me notice of any hunting meeting about to take place and allow me to pick out, those boys who are best in their classwork."

School terms were adjusted to meet the variations in the harvests; the hay harvest in June was more important than the corn harvest. Another sort of harvest, acorns, caused a school closure for nine days. That was an old activity but a new event occurred. When the agricultural labourers got the vote in 1884 the unprecedented number of voters meant that the school was required as a polling station. The Liberals won the general election, for the new electors in the countryside, kindled by Joseph Chamberlain’s fiery speeches, repaid the party which had enfranchised them.

The Iron Room

In spite of all the problems, learning took place. It was a notable event when another pupil teacher, William Pratchett, eighteen year old son of the bricklayer who lived near to the school, belonging to a family long established in the parish, completed his training and became assistant master at the Bamet National School. He continued to teach in the Sunday school and even, in a later emergency, took charge of his old school for a few weeks.

The only problem which called for a radical solution was the boys’ school building. In May 1886 the master, William Knowles, received a shock:

"On Tuesday afternoon just at close of a singing lesson about a sq. yd. of ceiling fell striking me on the head and back. Fortunately no injury was done to anyone. Dismissed school at once the managers had the ceiling thoroughly examined in the evening a peat part being pronounced unsafe."

After another two months worse followed: -

"More of the school ceiling fell during Friday night last. The managers have employed an architect to thoroughly look over the building and report to them. He reports the roof to be hi a dangerous condition and the managers have decided to close the school for two weeks while a temporary iron room is being erected."

After being used as a school for fifty years the old parish workhouse consisting of two or three cottages thrown into one, had to be abandoned. At that juncture, Edward Knowles having resigned through ill health and been presented with a purse of five guineas, William Lock became master. Coming from a Board school in Gateshead, in the State system, he was from a different stable, no church organist he. Perhaps he was drawn from that distant place by the prospect of a new school to be built.

A large sum had to be raised; the target was £1200. The gentry led the way, Captain Gaussen and Coningsby Sibthorpe £100 each, W R Winch, the tea merchant at North Mymms Place £50, Cotton Curtis and the vicar £25 apiece. The vicar launched an appeal, based on both God and Mammon: -

"It is to be hoped that many friends will contribute not merely to escape a School Board Rate, but as others have already done, from a desire to support Schools in which Scriptural Instruction takes its rightful place, and is not allowed, as we fear is sometimes the case in Board Schools, to be ill, or loosely, given, or put altogether in the background when the Government Examination draws near"

Demolition of the old school started in February 1887 and building of the new one in July, the banker’s lady from Potterells, Mrs Cotton Curtis laying the foundation stone. By June £828 had been raised or promised, mostly from parishioners. To help bridge the gap the vicar applied for a grant to the National Society, parent body of the schools, and was given £80. Asked to explain the size of the proposed building, he wrote: "The prospect of a large area in my Parish being ultimately let for building, renders it important to provide the new School with a larger number of School places than the present requirements of the Parish demands."

The larger area he mentioned may refer to Little Heath on the Great North Road, at the extreme southeastern tip of the parish. Perhaps not, for as the vicar well knew a school had been opened there only three years before. The mover was Samuel Gurney Sheppard, stockbroker, temperance campaigner, benefactor of the parish and owner of Leggatts and 282 acres. In 1883 he had built in Thornton Road, Little Heath, a mission room, the result of, in the vicar’s words, "personal evangelistic labours at his own residence."

House building was going on apace there. Thornton Road and other roads already had a dozen new small houses. Professional men, clerks and traders, with the people who served them, had come to live there. The drink trade at the Builders Arms, licensee William Axton, had started ten years earlier. The mission room became a busy centre for Sunday school, YMCA, YWCA, Bank of Hope and Bible and Prayer Union. At Easter 1883 150 people assembled for tea and a social evening.

The need for a school was obvious and a parochial mixed school opened in the mission room in 1884. Within three years there were 115 children "on the books", but attendance was a problem, as in Welham Green, for the average was only 57%. Inspectors’ reports reflected the initial problems: "There has been, on the whole, decided improvement In the elementary subjects, and sewing is fair." The school was heavily dependent on voluntary subscriptions and often in debt to its willing honorary treasurer, S G Sheppard.

Meanwhile at Welham Green the school closed for a week while the change was made from the iron room to the new building. There was a great gathering for opening day on 19 November which coincided with a meeting of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Six clergymen were present. Some of them were delayed by helping to drag a cart they found stuck fast in a ditch. The new school had two rooms, 40’ x 22’ x 11’ 6" and 26’ x 18’ x I1’ 6" , with accommodation for eighty boys. The master’s residence was complete with sitting robin, study, three bedrooms, kitchen and larder. The vicar considered that "The rooms, which do the greatest credit to their designer, looked remarkably well. They were capitally lit with Belge lamps, the walls being surrounded with texts of white letters on crimson background." He believed that the new premises, "may in some distant century be pointed out as a specimen of honest English nineteenth century work."

The l880s closed with a new master as well as a new school. Benjamin Mallett, certificated second class, strict disciplinarian, "found the discipline very slack and wants a deal of attention". But in spite of the problems there had already been some achievement. It is perhaps too much to say that illiteracy had disappeared. As that decade progressed, however, only a few of the brides and bridegrooms were still unable to sign their names in the marriage registers. A generation earlier half of the grooms and a third of the brides could only make their mark.

Peter Kingsford, 1987

Chapter 4 - Two steps forward, one step back 1890-1918
Index - North Mymms Schools & their Children 1700 - 1964
Preface - Why Peter Kingsford wrote the book
Time Chart - Key dates in the educational history of North Mymms
Sources - Where Peter Kingsford researched his material for the book

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